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What about Setúbal: An amazing city whose time is now

Setúbal has a lot to be proud of a. It is birthplace of José Mourinho, the Portuguese poet Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage, and Luisa Todi. It is the birthplace to Portugal’s most famed style, Manueline, too -and was once the most prized producer of salt in Europe.

Setúbal, is set on the northern bank of the Sado river estuary, about 26 miles south of Portugal's cool capital, Lisbon. A colony of dolphins  now lives in the Sado, making nature and the wild even closer. And, just south of Lisbon, it has the charm of a big city without the huge costs...

On arrival in Setúbal, one can’t help but notice the wealth of the city’s Roman remains. On the Travessa de Frei Gaspar ancient roman tanks for the fish processing industry were used throughout the 1st to 5th centuries to make a Roman favorite, garum. That's fish paste. Looming above the city is the Fortaleza de São Filipe, no longer boasting cannons but a modern Pousada hotel. The 16th century fort was constructed to defend the port from passing marauder  and enjoys a privileged position at the mouth of the River Sado. Overlooking the scenic beaches of the Troia Peninsula, the mountains of Serra da Arrábida act as its backdrop. It is the work of the Italian architect Filipe Terzio and was built at the orders of Philip II to protect the entrance to the Sado estuary.

Setubal_Convento de Jesus Photo_ Jose Manuel
Down below, in the Largo de Jesus, we find city’s most striking monument: the Convent and Church of Jesus (15th century). The Igreja de Jesus is a remarkable Gothic church with its interior columns carved in Arrábida pink stone from the nearby quarry. The architect Diogo Boitac designed this wonderful early example of Manueline style in 1494. Peek inside the late 15th century church to discover that his is first building in the Portuguese late Gothic style known as Manueline. The church is a blend of this unique Portuguese style of architectural ornamentation incorporating maritime elements and discoveries. It evokes famed voyages of Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral. The Manueline style was named after King at the time, D, Manuel I  (1495 - 1521). Turn up around lunchtime and succumb to the temptations of the grilled fish at the restaurants along the riverside. This will be the freshest taste of the sea one can imagine, as the city still boasts a good sized fishing fleet.No surprise for the third largest port in Portugal - well sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean.

The 16th Century Cathedral Santa Maria da Graça opens a window on azulejo tiles from the 18th Century. Museu de Setúbal is to be found in the Mosterio de Jesus with a wealth of religious relics and paintings. Part of the collection is dedicated to the local son,  18th Century Portuguese romantic poet Bocage. The Museu de Arqueológia e Etnográfia has a varied and interesting collection of items discovered in the immediate region, from Bronze Age pots to the processing of cork.

A century ago, Setúbal was an important center for Portugal's fishing industry, sardines in particular. And, for those who many recall the canned Portuguese sardine, the reason they re so hard to find today is that all the factories are gone today. At the same time, the salt industry, and the pink salt do Setúbal was once acclaimed ad the best in eh word, dried up, too. With its industrial and fishing life is in decline, tourism became the big opportunity for the future. And with the white cliffs of the coast of Arrábida natural park nearby the city has access to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.

Just south of and across the river from Setúbal on the sandy peninsula of Tróia time has reversed. Numerous ugly high-rise luxury resorts have been demolished, and the entire area is being redeveloped.

Nearby to the west and south of Setúbal is the Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado, a nature reserve park of vast stretches of mud flats, lagoons and small forests of pine trees. To the west of the town is the quaint Portinho da Arrábida, a large cove type beach facing south and protected from the north winds by a high slope. Climb half way up this slope set in the deserted natural greenery is a solitary 16th Century Franciscan Monastery enjoying what must be one of the most beautifully restful views in Europe. This Monastery has been restored by the Fundação Oriente and is being now used as a Study Center.

Close to the beach there is a small 17th Century Fort that houses a small Sea and Marine Biology Centre. Rising up from the seashore, Arrábida Park is a striking coastal landscape just outside Lisbon. Its highest point is at Serra do Risco, a magnificent 380 meter high cliff.

Guided walks or mountain biking are just two of the ways of exploring this natural environment, a rare national example of a unsullied Mediterranean landscape and vegetation. Options even extend to night tours.

Take the ”Circuito das Serras‚” a jeep tour for the swiftest way of getting to the Park’s highest points, or try the ”Circuito dos Arrozais‚” a tour, taking in part of the Sado River estuary.

Continue towards Palmela. There, the Maria I fountain points the way to the Castle built on an abutment jutting out from the Serra da Arrábida, and now home to an attractive Pousada-manor hotel. Donated by Afonso Henriques to the Military Order of Santiago de Espada, and recently restored. The view from its walls is truly magnificent. Inside, there is the tiled Convent and Church of Santiago.

To the south on the old road to the Algarve is the city of Alcácer do Sal that was once the capital of the now extinct province of Al-Cassr until it was regained in the 12th Century from the Moors by the Christian forces. The castle and the Convento de Santo António was built in the 16th Century but was destroyed in 1755 by an earthquake. The castle has been restored into a comfortable Pousada for the overnight visitors to the region. Immediately to the north of Setúbal is the proud town of Palmela with its castle high walls sitting on the crown of its hill. In the 12th Century, Dom Afonso Henrigues gave this town to the Order of Santiago for their headquarters. The Igreja do Convento de Sant'Iago, which was originally built in the 15th Century has suffered considerably from the destruction of the 1755 earthquake but has been recently restored with a part being made into a Pousada. From its high location the view from the walls stretch back to Lisbon and far into the Alentejo.

To the northwest is the small village of Azeitão. Here are the Quinta do Bacalhau and the Quinta das Torres, both from the 16th Century and both full of charm and history. The first is famous for its wine and the second for its hospitality as a country Inn. Notably in the same area are the famous Wine Cellars of José Maria de Fonseca.The seat of the municipality is the city of As of 2005, a new luxury resort is planned to replace today's Tróia . You can view Tróia at Albarquel , a beach located in the very beginning of Arrábida.

Reaching Portinho da Arrábida, take a wander along the beach, located between the highest point of Serra da Arrábida and the sea. The Pedra da Anixa, a small rocky island just off the sand is a choice spot for underwater spear fishing. Restaurants along the beach specialize in fish caldeirada (a stew-like dish) and the famous Setúbal red mullet.

The beautiful landscapes of the Serra da Setúbal and the beaches around the Sado river estuary provide an excellent backdrop to this scenic tour to the south of Lisbon.

Do not get confused, there are two "Azeitão-s". Start in Vila Nogueira de Setúbal. At the foot of the Serra da Arrábida (a Natural Park), this town is home to a rich historic and artistic heritage, particularly from the 16th and 18th centuries, including the renaissance Dukes of Aveiro Palace, the Church of S. Lourenço (St. Laurence) and the baroque Pasmados fountain. In this village try some of the justly famous and delicious cheeses and visit one of the local producers to find out how they are made.

Then continue to Vila Fresca de Azeitão. In the town surrounded by large country estates, the church of São Simao (St Simon) features a fine 16th century example of Nossa Senhora da Saude (Our Lady of Health). In the Quinta das Torres, there is now a country hotel (and an excellent choice for somewhere to spend the night) located in the 16th century mansion with the gardens being of particular beauty.

At tea time taste the divine tortas de Azeitão, accompanied by the local nectar, a beautiful chilled fruity muscatel wine, tasting as sweet as love itself.

A visit should also be paid to admire the sophisticated heritage of Quinta da Bacalhoa  Its Palacio (Palace of Bacalhoa Farm) dates from the final quarter of the 15th century and is one of the finest examples of renaissance architecture in Portugal.

Take a walk in the hills, underwater snorkeling, sea fishing or try the produce of these waters and a fresh grilled fish or some shellfish.   You can also put on a pair of sturdy walking boots, pack your lunch, and discover some of the hidden corners of these hills that swoop right down to the Atlantic. Enjoy the striking landscapes as you walk the paths. Discover the Capuchin monastery in the middle of the forest. In Setúbal marina, take a trip on a traditional salt galleon out onto the Sado estuary or along the Arrábida coastline.

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